1. Super Normal UX Design

    Simplicity in user experience design is the one thing we all try to accomplish. The irony is, it’s not simple at all. This is not just because we feel often compelled to add new features, in order to make our product superior. I think the main reason is that even the understanding of simplicity is quite complex.

    The Complexity of Simple UX Design

    It’s not very difficult to take a simple challenge and create a simple solution. A blank website with just one button is simple, but maybe boring and not valuable at all. The reality is that we seek for rich and satisfying experiences, and with this richness comes complexity. Sometimes we even love this complexity.

    Think about games. „Four in a row“, a simple game, „Chess“, a complex game. The complexity of the rules could add immensely to the game and on the other hand could be a reason while many never start to play.
    It’s hard to say how much complexity is enough.

    Think about daily rituals like making a cup of coffee. For some a complex ceremony of making a perfect coffee adds pleasure and maybe even a sense of membership to a culture, others just seek convenience and some caffeine.

    Often the context in which we use something is defining how we perceive the complexity of a tool. If I am hiking through the mountains a Swiss Army Knife is a great simple tool. I don’t prefer it at home in my kitchen though.

    Then there are these things that are super complex, but we don’t complain about at all in our daily lives. Think about our language, our alphabet. Writing and reading takes years to master. We don’t mind complexity when it seems appropriate.

    Sometimes there are tools that look simple, but to use them actually isn’t.
    Take the apparent simplicity of a surfboard or a pair of skis. Anyone who tried to learn these sports will tell you, it’s not simple to use at all. Perceived simplicity is not the simplicity of usage.

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  2. Platform Marketing: Making Use of the Cognitive Surplus

    Americans watch roughly two hundred billion hours of TV every year. That’s in average 34 hours per week per person. „Where do people find the time?“ is the most common reaction to these numbers.

    Imagine treating the free time of these people as an aggregate, what could have been possible? In his great book „Cognitive SurplusClay Shirky calculates that this would represent about two thousand Wikipedia projects worth of free time annually.

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    Of course, there is a big difference between writing a decent wikipedia article and watching a TV series, but nevertheless people could, even with very little effort, do creative and valuable things.
    As Clay Shirky puts it:

    „The stupidest creative act, is still a creative act. (…) The real gap is between making nothing and making something.“

    Even if it’s just flagging an inappropriate comment or reposting a picture, we are able to build great meaningful things even with just little interactions.
    Technology and the mobile web enables us to treat free time as asset for communally created projects, rather than as a set of individual minutes to be whiled away one person at a time.

    New flexible infrastructures and tools becoming cheaper, easier to implement and remove many of the barriers to try and start new online platforms and communities. Chris Dixon calls it „Software eats Software Development“
    You have an idea for the next Twitter? You could launch a first prototype in less than 3 months. Your biggest expense? Human resources.

    There is a huge amount of startups and venture capital trying to make use of the cognitive surplus, but I am wondering why established brands and companies don’t make use of it, too?

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  3. The Ethics of Code and Design

    There are two topics we are talking a lot about in our tech community: Privacy and security. A good thing. But I think there is one other important topic, that we are discussing not frequently enough: Ethics.

    Sorry for the bold statement, please hold on, let me explain:

    A while ago I stumbled over an essay by Jonathan Harris, titled Modern Medicine. It’s not about medicine, it’s about technology and their makers.
    It is a piece about the responsibility of software engineers and designers for their products.

    Here some quotes I highlighted back then:

    „The designers of this software call themselves “software engineers”, but they are really more like social engineers.“

    „Through the software they design and introduce to the world, these engineers transform the daily routines of hundreds of millions of people. Previously, this kind of mass transformation of human behavior was the sole domain of war, famine, disease, and religion, but now it happens more quietly, through the software we use every day, which affects how we spend our time, and what we do, think, and feel.“

    „If a given drug is found to harm more than it heals, we’re encouraged not to use it. But sometimes a drug is so addictive that we use it anyway — even if it hurts us — and we go to extraordinary lengths to obtain another dose.“

    „A lot of software is designed to be addictive. In Silicon Valley, the addictivity of a given piece of software is considered an asset. Companies strive to make their products “viral” and “sticky” so that “users keep coming back” to “get their daily fix.” This sounds a lot like dealing drugs.“

    Compulsive Usage

    Jonathan uses the word addictive and he is not over exaggerating. If you do an UX analysis on certain digital products, especially in the area of gaming, it’s not very hard to see very close similarities to products or services that are already regulated in our society, because of their addictivity. Sometimes you can even wonder, if certain mechanisms, concepts and even pricing strategies had their archetypes in these kind of products.

    Some of you will think now, well this is a very dark picture you are building here, and this smells a bit like as if you don’t grant these digital services their success.

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